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Rees's Thesis

UBC professor William Rees believes we’ve got into a terrible mess by thinking of ourselves as divorced from nature rather than part of it. That’s why he developed the “ecological footprint” that’s become the global standard for measuring an individual’s impact on the environment
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UBC professor William Rees believes we’ve got into a terrible mess by thinking of ourselves as divorced from nature rather than part of it. That’s why he developed the “ecological footprint” that’s become the global standard for measuring an individual’s impact on the environment

Bill Rees has a problem. He can't find anything to buy.

It's a Friday morning in early November, and one of the leading thinkers of the global sustainability movement-the UBC professor who invented the concept of the eco-footprint-is pushing a cart up and down the aisles of Wal-Mart.
All is quiet here at North Vancouver's Capilano Mall. Maybe too quiet. Less than a month remains until Christmas, but the place is half empty. As the nation slumps deeper into recession, it feels like the buying season is desperately trying to get started-like someone repeatedly pulling a cord on a lawnmower that just chugs and coughs. And Rees isn't helping.

"The thing is, I'm not a very good shopper," he says sheepishly, as we pass a squawking colour LCD screen that implores us to purchase a gift card.

But shop the professor must, because I have given him $50 cash and instructed him to do so. I want to find out how the living conscience of a world deep into overshoot will behave here in the belly of the beast. After all, this gigantic store is the definitive symbol of consumer culture run haywire. Wal-Mart is a vilified mom-and-pop killer, a global-supply-chain goliath, a convenient scapegoat for our collective race to the bottom.

It's not going so well. A brief reconnoitre for bike parts ends in disappointment-the sporting-goods department contains only hunting gear. So after choosing a pack of English muffins, a jug of milk, a roll of cling wrap, and a few compact fluorescent bulbs-"I'm feeling a little guilty about this; I have a few extras at home already"-we head for the kitchen section in search of a slow cooker.

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